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Tourism growing here

Hotel bookings, travel/leisure jobs up

Hotel bookings, travel/leisure jobs up

November 30, 1999|By Tom Riford

Special to The Daily Mail

� By many areas of measurement, 2005 was a terrific year for tourism.

As Washington County's second- or third-largest industry ? depending on how the stats are compared ? tourism employs more than 5,700 people in our county in the leisure and hospitality classification. This was an increase this year of about 400 workers, and is about 9 percent of our county's workforce.

Overnight visitors spent more than $176.1 million, according to the state of Maryland, and this doesn't include the millions of dollars spent by "day-trippers" who traveled here to shop, and then went home.

About 1.3 million people will have spent the night in our county during 2005. These visitors saw our attractions, our parks and our museums. They saw the Hagerstown Suns play, they enjoyed the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, and/or they visited the Rural Heritage Museum or the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, or any of the other 35 museums and historic sites in our county.

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They may have visited Antietam National Battlefield, or one of our four other national parks that are here âEUR¦ or our eight state parks, such as Fort Frederick or Greenbrier.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau tracks hotel occupancy, along with visitation at our local attractions and parks.

Hotel occupancy in 2005 was up to the best it's ever been, including six months of more than 70 percent occupancy. Think what that means ? on any given night in Washington County, seven out of 10 hotel rooms are booked.

We have more hotel rooms this year than we did last year, so the increase in occupancy this year is even more significant. Plus, there are three hotels that have announced plans to be built, a couple of other hotels are basically doubling the number of their rooms, and Jellystone Park is doing a multimillion-dollar expansion âEUR¦ all this means about 400 more hotel rooms for our community within the next couple of years.

Many people know that we have more hotel rooms now than Frederick County, but we still need more to meet the demand.

Convention and group business this year was up 19 percent, and last year it was up 40 percent over the year before. Groups and conventions want to come here, and frequently have to look elsewhere because we don't have enough rooms and/or space. We had several national and state conventions in Washington County this year, and several TV and movie projects that utilized thousands of hotel rooms.

All this means a lot of money flowing through our economy, jobs being created and maintained, and a good investment in our municipalities.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau had several successes this year. One main success was that for the first time, the CVB is totally out of debt, and today actually has a cash reserve.

There are more members of the CVB today than ever, the organization added 25 members and has nearly 250 members. These include hotels, restaurants, stores, businesses, organizations, and individuals âEUR¦ and they all agree in the mission of promoting Washington County to attract visitors, and the money those visitors spend.

The CVB partnered this year with more than 17 events, including the Western Maryland Blues Fest, AugustoberFest, Elvis Lives, Festival of Trees, National Pike Festival, Funkstown Olde Tyme Christmas, the Nutcracker, the Miss Maryland Pageant, MSO events, Mummers' Parade, Independence Celebration at Antietam, the Trains of Christmas, the Chili Cookoff and Music Festival.

Marketing and publicity greatly increased over the past 21 months. In fact, the CVB has spent more money on advertising, the CVB exhibited at more regional and national trade shows ? 16 this year!

It also sought more positive publicity for our community. Many news stories made national attention, including a recent article which ran on the Associated Press throughout North America, and was carried in USA Today, CNN, and newspapers in Canada and the U.S. The article was about the new African American Heritage Guide for Hagerstown and Washington County. The brochure was carefully researched by the Washington County Historical Society, with help from the Washington County Free Library, the African American Historical Association, and designed by PM2 Studios in Hagerstown. This positive attention helps stretch the marketing impact for Hagers-town-Washington County.

One article about Washington County which ran in various newspapers across the nation earlier this year would have cost more than $200,000 if that space was paid advertising, and that's according to Maryland, which did a publicity study on tourism.

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